Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pi Kap-Amherst Finds Good in Helping Others

Fraternity builds wheelchair ramp
By Nick Bush
The Daily Collegian
University of Massachusetts

For some frat brothers, community service is near the bottom of their priority list, right behind returning all the empty beer cans to the recycling center.

However, Pi Kappa Phi at the University of Massachusetts has been striving to be more than the typical perception of a fraternity. This past Saturday, the fraternity built a ramp at a South Pleasant Street home for a local Amherst resident restricted to a wheelchair.

"Pi Kappa Phi is trying to redefine 'fraternity,'" said member Phil Benevides. "All of our members have decided to make Pi Kappa alcohol-free. We have other focuses that we feel are more important than partying, such as helping people."

The locals appreciate the help the fraternity brothers provided.

"I'm delighted that these boys could come to help," said Eleanor, 82, who received the ramp free of charge.

A local artist and long time Amherst resident, she no longer needs assistance entering and exiting her home.

The ramp is just one of many acts of community service that Pi Kappa Phi has taken part in through its national philanthropic organization Push America.

Founded in 1977 by Pi Kappa brothers Durward Owen and Thomas Sayre, Push America works year round to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities.

With the help of the Stavros Center for Independent Living, Pi Kappa Phi has been able to get in touch with many people with disabilities that could benefit from their philanthropy. The fraternity has built three ramps in the Amherst area for people with disabilities thus far. All of them have been part of Push America's AccessABILITY project, which aims to make everyday life easier for those stricken to wheelchairs.

"We are happy to come to Eleanor's house and make it more accessible for her," said Pi Kappa Phi brother Matt Schoenberg, who is also the community service and Push America executive for the fraternity.

"We take a lot of pride in serving people with disabilities, and do what we can to raise money and awareness."

Chartered in 2006, Pi Kappa Phi is one of the newest fraternities on campus - with 38 active brothers and 12 alumni at UMass.

Pi Kappa Phi has the country's northernmost chapter of Push America, traditionally a southern fraternity.

Push America hosts a number of events each year to promote their causes, most notably the Journey of Hope, a bike ride across the United States.

"Last year we were proud to have two of our brothers participate in the Journey of Hope," said Schoenberg. "One of them even took part in riding, which is obviously a big accomplishment."

Pi Kappa Phi and Push America have put together a number of events in the past year in addition to their work with AccessABILITY, including a number of 5k runs to raise awareness and funds.

One race last year rose over $16,000, all of which will go toward charitable causes, such as their work this weekend.The fraternity has 128 active chapters nationwide, and 11 associate chapters.

Originating in South Carolina, Pi Kappa Phi has 97,000 initiated brothers, and is currently the fastest growing national fraternity. Its main goal is the development of strong leadership ability within its brothers through charity work.

Nick Bush can be reached at nbush@student.umass.edu.